A huge trade was announced today as the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller and a minor leaguer to the Braves for Jason Heyward and a relief pitcher.
This is a really interesting trade on several fronts.
First, it suggests the Braves are in a bit of a re-building mode. After finishing the season 17 games behind the Nationals and 9 behind a wild card spot, there was no need to be in a win now mode.
For the Cardinals, it is an indication they may be in a win now mode. Heyward is a free agent after 2015 and there is a strong belief he will be too expensive for the Cardinals to sign. In order to get him, they had to give up a good young pitcher in Shelby Miller who has 4 years of control left.
So why trade Miller? I believe there are several reasons. Having John Lackey for one more year certainly is one reason. But another major factor is that Miller really regressed in his second season with the Cardinals. From his rookie year to sophomore year, his strikeout rate fell from 0.97 to 0.69 per inning. His FIP also went up from 3.67 to 4.55. I think there was a decent chance the Cardinals just decided to move on from Miller and believe his peak wasn't going to be as good as they hoped for.
However, I think there may be one other major reason.
In 2011 the Cardinals were criticized when they traded Colby Rasmus for players for a playoff run. Most notably this was for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel. I absolutely hated the trade. In 2010 Rasmus looked like he would be a superstar, hitting .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs at the age of 23. He was a highly skilled center field player with a high ceiling and 3 more years of control for several mid-tier players for a playoff run.
Why did the Cardinals do it? GM John Mozeliak said one of the major reasons they did it was because they knew their playoff window was small. With Albert Pujols about to become a free agent (and unlikely to return), Lance Berkman & Chris Carpenter unknowns for returning (although they both did return), the Cardinals felt they had to make a run. Well, we know how 2011 worked out for the Cardinals ... really well.
I think there's a chance the Cardinals felt the same way this time. Matt Holliday had one of his worst seasons in 2014. He may simply be declining and his best years are behind him. Yadier Molina was injured part of the season and his overall offense was down too. His OPS was below 0.800 for the first time since 2010. His best years may also be behind him. Jhonny Peralta had a great year in 2014, but how many elite years does he have left in him?
With the death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals do not appear to have any superstar prospects to carry the organization for years out. Players like Matt Adams and Kolten Wong may become quite good, but unlikely to be able to carry an organization. Michael Wacha could have been in that category until his injury, so now he's a bit more of an unknown. The Cardinals have solid prospects like Stephen Piscotty, but no one with a high ceiling like Taveras.
So with all the factors above and John Lackey's one year contract, I think the Cardinals may have realized 2015 may be their small window of a chance to win it all before a small rebuild would have to occur.